Rand Paul wants to let ex-cons vote, reduce drug offenses


McClatchy Washington Bureau

Calling the criminal justice system “the largest impediment to both voting and employment in our country,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul wants to restore voting rights to nonviolent felons and reduce many drug crimes down to misdemeanors.

Paul, a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2016, said he has a friend whose brother grew marijuana plants 30 years ago at college.

“He must have been pretty successful because he got a felony conviction for whatever he was growing,” Paul said Tuesday at a voting rights forum at the Capitol.

Paul said the guy still can’t vote in Kentucky, three decades later.

And he’s forced to check a box saying “convicted felon,” whenever filling out a job application, Paul said, making his chances of landing the job questionable.

Paul has a bill to restore the federal voting rights for nonviolent felons after they’ve served their time. He called it “the biggest problem of voting rights facing our country.”

“The biggest thing preventing people from voting is the overcriminalization that’s come through the war on drugs,” he said.

Paul also said that some drug offenses should become misdemeanors. He pointed to a recent U.S. Sentencing Commission decision to reduce the jail terms for nonviolent drug traffickers, and advocated going further and making such crimes no longer felonies.

“Take some of these minor, nonviolent crimes, we have a couple dozen of them, most of them are drug possession or sale, and make them misdemeanors,” Paul said

“They’d still be against the law, they still may have jail sentences, but then you wouldn’t get trapped into the idea of either needing to get your voting rights back or needing to get your record expunged,” he said.

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